Illness and death result from a cynical coal fixation


Eskom’s manoeuvring to benefit a few suppliers despite ‘dirty power’ that is no longer the cheapest raises questions, writes Melissa Fourie and Robyn Hugo (BusinessDay)

In March, Eskom announced plans to shut down five of its oldest coal-power plants. The dramatic nature of the announcement was a cynical move: the decommissioning of Komati, Kriel, Camden, Grootvlei and Hendrina power plants has been scheduled (by Eskom) for a long time, as these plants come to the end of their technical and economically feasible lives.

It appears the real reason for the announcement was Eskom’s attempt to garner trade union support for its audacious refusal to sign renewable power purchase agreements by claiming, falsely, that capacity from renewable energy was forcing the early closure of Eskom stations.

Before this announcement, Eskom had declared its intention to do a feasibility assessment for refurbishment of these plants: a self-evidently unaffordable and unnecessary exercise that now appears to have been abandoned. More recently — and apparently as a result of the protests by unions — it also said it would assess the socioeconomic effects of closing down the plants. But that process does not seem to have started either.

All this manoeuvring raises questions about why Eskom is so intent on continuing to purchase coal, and to purchase it from particular suppliers, when, quite apart from the devastating environmental and health effects, coal power is no longer the cheapest way to generate electricity.

Renewable energy, particularly from the later rounds of procurement — including those agreements Eskom is unwilling to sign — is cheaper. At this stage, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that Eskom is selling power to South Africans that is more expensive than it should be to maintain vested interests in the coal-mining industry.

One Eskom issue that has received barely a mention in the public domain is that it is SA’s single biggest polluter. Its old, dirty coal-power stations are not only violating the Constitution and environmental laws, but are also killing South Africans every day.

In 2015, despite vehement civil society opposition, the national air quality officer granted Eskom postponements from compliance with air emission standards that seek to protect health. This unforgivable capitulation effectively allowed Eskom’s stations to continue to pollute beyond prescribed acceptable standards of emissions for another five, and in several cases, 10 years.

Before these postponements were granted, civil society and community groups told the government that experts advised that more than 2,200 premature deaths were already being caused each year by the air-pollution emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants including the deaths of 200 young children. These and other health effects from Eskom emissions were then estimated to cost SA R30bn each year.

Read the full article on BusinessDay ⟶

Source: 06 JUNE 2017 – 06:37 by MELISSA FOURIE AND ROBYN HUGO (BusinessDay).